At Drop of Water we are proud of the constructive relationships we’ve developed with May Genet’s community, and community leaders. Of course networking with administration and educators is important, but often overlooked, are credible leaders hidden amongst the crowd who lack formal titles. We wanted to include everyone in realizing our vision for May Genet, so we set out to find these leaders and its produced some incredible results.
This quarter we are thrilled to share the story of Mama Likeyelesh, who’s commitment to her community has been essential in realizing our organization’s mission. In Mama Likeyelesh, we have found an effective partner in uniting community members. From the start, we recognized the influence she had and the positive role model she was for young women and girls. Consequently, we were delighted when she agreed to be the Chairperson of Momona’s WASH Committee and head of the water point. We sat down with her after a WASH Committee meeting and asked her to tell us a little about her life.
Like many women in Ethiopia, she finds joy in performing traditional coffee ceremonies and chatting with her friends. She insists she is most at peace while sweeping the compound free of debris. We were quite surprised to hear she isn’t originally from May Genet. Not an uncommon story for women and girls in rural Ethiopia, she came from a nearby village for an arranged marriage at the age of fifteen. Even if she wasn’t rather tall as typical Ethiopian women, undeniably it’s her spirit that looms large in a room. Fitting indeed that her name actually translates to mean “limitless” in Amharic.
At the age of 57 she shows no signs of slowing down. We’re sure its because she includes herself in so many activities around the village. Mama Likeyelesh is quite straightforward when explaining she is the mother of five, all of whom have grown and are raising children of their own.
Reflecting on our accomplishments over the past few months, its hard to imagine getting nearly as much done without Mama Likeyelesh. For example, this quarter we partnered with Dignity Period a local organization dedicated to providing reproductive health education and sanitary pads to women in rural Ethiopia.
Dignity Period is accustomed to providing their training to women and girls only, but we saw an opportunity to try something new. What made our strategy different was including men, women, boys, girls and especially religious elders in the distribution of re-useable menstrual pads and educational materials. Its important to appreciate men and boys as husbands, fathers, brothers, students, peers, teachers, community leaders, and of course employers. We wanted to include them in the dialogue because we see their vast potential to support women and girls in managing menstruation effectively. Mama Likeyelesh was irreplaceable in bridging the gap between these groups. As a result of her efforts, the community came together to realize improved health for their girls.
Next we inquired about her own experience with menstruation and asked if it was something she was comfortable sharing with us. With her characteristic forthrightness she explained how she first menstruated when she was sixteen and the difficulties like the absence of sanitary products or even underpants to keep them in place. She spoke of being expected to go about her daily chores while at times using her own clothing for absorption.
When asked if the menstruation training and pads improved life in May Genet she said girls are noticeably less embarrassed talking about menstruation. Similarly, fathers are reassured knowing their daughters have the pads they need not to miss school.
True gender equality may be a long way off in May Genet, but thanks to the efforts of our team and the tenacity of Mama Likeyelesh, more people are now prioritizing women’s health which is a step in the right direction.